last weekend seth started to get a scratch in his throat. he was craving something that would soothe his sore throat and warm his insides. he knew what he needed, and it was pho. that delectable noodle soup that is eaten morning, noon, and night in the country of vietnam and is conveniently accessible in portland, maine.
now we usually hit up thanh thanh 2 but we have been meaning to try huong's downtown at 349 cumberland ave, so off we headed on foot. it was just after noon when we entered the tiny restaurant which is in serious need of a face lift. the eight or so tables are dominated by a large try of asian condiments. the walls and ceiling are a sad shade of white and of course there is the requisite collection of vietnamese kitsch decorating those sad walls. the menu is limited, only a few pages of classic vietnamese fare. but i never hold it against a place when they do a few things really good, and this is just what huong's did.
we started out with the fresh summer rolls with shredded pork, and incarnation i had never tried before, and i have had my fare share of summer rolls. they were wonderful, fresh and salty, complex and simple all at the same time. needless to say, we both ordered the pho, seth choose the beef pho while i stuck with the chicken. they were awesome! i love adding in the extras: fresh basil, mung bean sprouts, unidentified leafy greens, and fresh lime. i always add some hot sauce and hoisin to my steaming bowl to get just the right kick.
i carefully eyed the table of vietnamese diners to see the way they consumed their pho. in their right hand they held the chop sticks and in the left the soup spoon, which both ladled broth into their mouths but also aided the chopsticks in scooping up the solids.
the meal was a deal, as vietnamese should be, topping out at around $20 with tip. i remember this one place in the south end of boston that charged like $15 for a bowl of pho and all i could think about were the suckers that paid that much when the could have gotten a better, cheaper bowl in chinatown.
the pho did the trick in soothing seth's throat but unfortunately he still ended up with a full blown head cold and i inevitably started to feel that scratchy tickle in my own throat the following tuesday. as the day progressed i knew there was only one thing that would help my raw throat -- pho! seth did not complain when i suggested we hit up thanh thanh 2 for dinner that night.
on a side note, thanh thanh 2 is one of the reasons i decided portland was the town for me. i really thought i would love portland even before i visited but i truthfully envisioned myself stocking up on pho in boston's chinatown to store in my freezer for just such an occasion. so when seth and i first came to visit portland, on a very rainy weekend in early march, and marya and otis took us to thanh thanh 2 for dinner, i knew i had truly found home.
this time we started out with the fried egg rolls which are always delicious but a bit hazardous. they are so good yet served directly from the fryer and so i always burn my tongue in my hurry to consume their goodness. again i choose the chicken pho with the biggest difference between huong's and thanh thanh 2's being that the latter serves it with sliced jalapenos and less unidentifiable leafy greens. as always i loaded in the spicy and by the end of the bowl felt my sinuses clear and my throat soothed. seth branched out this time and ordered the thanh thanh mi vit tiem, a whole duck leg soup with yellow noodle and chinese broccli. otis has been raving about this bowl of soup for some time and seth felt it lived up to the raves. its pretty similar to pho, except its served with yellow noodles instead of rice noodles and there are more vegetables cooked in the broth.
as much as i consider myself to be a very adventurous eater, i only order two things at vietnamese restaurants: chicken pho and bun (rice noodles not in a soup) with grilled pork and hopefully egg rolls. its not that i am not willing to try new things, its just that these two dishes are so delicious and i don't want to be disappointed with something not as good. a lot of the time i look around at what other people get and it sort of looks like chinese food to me. if i wanted chinese i would get chinese, so i always order my standbys. there is one exception and that is when i have the pleasure to dining at pho viet huong on mulberry street in manhattan, where i always order the grilled beef and paypaya salad. it is always on the special menu and it is literally the food of the gods. if i had to choose one food to eat for the rest of my life this would be it. i have ordered grilled beef salads off of many a vietnamese and thai menu but none has ever compared to this one.
so i would like to say that eating the pho last tuesday healed me and i woke up wednesday a new woman. but i can't. my sore throat never did turn into a full blow head cold, but it did linger for quite a few days. in any event, we are lucky as hell to live in this northern new england city and have such awesome vietnamese food so readily available. seth and i suffered through three years in connecticut with only a few month window of good vietnamese food. so get out and enjoy these great options in the almost endless array of ethnic food in portland.
and someday, as portland food coma pleads, we may actually get some decent mexican in this town.